[Preliminary Draft (Outline with Extracts) of Paper intended to accompany (Suggested) “OFFICIAL STATEMENT & PREFATORY NOTICE”
(if adopted as submitted for consideration of Council, 26 Feb.1984.]
MADAME BLAVATSKY, THE SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH, AND ITS “CORPORATE NEUTRALITY”: 1884-1984
I – THE MYTH
“...a complete misapprehension of the facts of the case.”
1. The Myth: Its Meaning and Menace.
As technological innovations multiply the means and scope of public communication, what one may call the mass0mind or collective-thought in our era becomes even more susceptible to the impact of “images,” phantasms-of-the-Press projected as realities. The image-maker, the public-relations expert, the professional purveyor of myth for the mass-media is today’s sacred oracle and fearsome magus. For all whose success and prosperity are dependent upon public recognition, public goodwill, the promise and prospects of this subjugation are especially perilous. This is particularly so for such an organized entity as The Society for Psychical Research which itself has neither that vast reservoir from which “psi-subjects”—if there are any to be found—must be recruited for experimentation and research, nor financial funding always sufficient to conduct such work on substantial or adequate scale. For both resources, in significant measure, our Society has to look to the public masses; and thus, engaged as it must be, in courting that one source which alone can be anticipated to give it these vital means to survive and prosper as a viable body for scientific progress, the Society is especially vulnerable, ever-endangered by the word-weaver who—if for nothing more mischievous than to make capital on a public sensation—would clothe it in false colors before its audience. Hence, the one thing the S.P.R. can least afford to neglect is the vigilant, jealous preservation of the truthful image it seeks to project before the public. To exchange that vigilance for complacency, to idle in the shadow of false images case upon us by thoughtlessness, ignorance, disinformation and dangerous myth implanted in the minds of the masses, would prove to be sheer folly. To permit without effective protest the dissemination of error and falsehood about its history, policy and activity, and to ignore or belittle the potency of these for alienation of our public, is a sure way to reserve for the Society a place on the dust-bin of history. One does not have to look farafield to discern well-meaning societies who, for like-reason, have suffered that fate.
Doubtless, all of us at once time or another have been surprised and perturbed upon hearing ours is “the Psychical Society,” presumably a circle of eccentric psychics—a society which conducts research “psychically”! What false images can be conjured by—a name. And yet, no name can protect us from the myth-makers: on local and national radio and television we are now all too often bombarded with spooky tales, spun out by a never-ending parade of bewildered “sensitives,” boastful “exorcists,” and vain quacks and spoofers of every mystic hue, all styling themselves “Parapsychologists”! But set beside one tenacious, self-perpetuating myth which has ensconced itself on the history-books and encyclopaedias on the shelf of every public library and in the research-files of information centers world-wide, these latter-day ephemerae are mere trivia.
Oddly enough, the oldest, most enduring and universal, most flagrant and dangerous of all myths about The Society for Psychical Research is one that, at the same time, has brought our Society greater “free publicity” and more “favorable publicity”, even laudatory fame, than any other word spoken of the S.P.R.—and, perhaps for that very reason, until now has gone uncontradicted officially. Reference is made to the widespread and predominate, trifold belief: (i) that in 1884 and 1885, The Society for Psychical Research investigated Madame Helena P. Blavatsky—chief founder of the modern Theosophical Movement—in connection with certain mysterious events, “marvelous phenomena” or “occult wonders” thought by some persons to have been supernormal in origin; (ii) that, as the final results of this, “it’s” investigation (“the investigation by the Society for Psychical Research”), the S.P.R. “reached” or, as variously alleged, formally “accepted,” endorsed or propounded conclusions culminating in what is called “the S.P.R.’s verdict” condemning “H.P.B.” as an imposter and officially pronouncing these purported phenomena as having certainly originated in conspiracy, fraud, fiction and illusion; and (iii) lastly, after having thus fully committed its authority to the support, adoption or formulation of this damning verdict, the S.P.R. further exercised its corporate responsibility by causing these condemnations to be prepared and published on its behalf, in the form of a “final” report of the results of this investigation (referred to as “the Report of the S.P.R.”), and so duly authorized the printing thereof in the Society’s official Proceedings issued December 1885.
A typical repetition of this gross deception appeared
“Comments on Madame Blavatsky were contained in a report by Richard Hodgson in Part IX of Proceedings dated December 1885 and any accusations therein contained are the responsibility of the author and not this organization.” (Time, of course, did not print the correction, having its own media-myth of infallibility to protect.)
The significance and importance inherent in the Hon. Secretary’s disclaimer, mirroring as it does official policy of The Society for Psychical Research, are paralleled in remarks of Sir Alister Hardy, then President of the Society, while addressing the Annual General Meeting, S.P.R., on the 22nd of April of the immediately previous year. Responding to an observation that “the Society holds no corporate opinion and any views expressed in its publications” are “strictly those of the authors,” the President said, “As far as I know, this is a rule with all scientific societies with which I am associated.” “The Royal Society,” he observed, “appoints committees to carry out investigations, and it publishes the results of these investigations, but the Society as a whole never expresses a corporate view. It encourages research and may set up bodies to do this, but the responsibility for the views expressed always rests with the authors and never with the Society. It would be quite wrong for the Royal Society to go on record as saying that it definitely favours one view of physics rather than another, and the S.P.R. must also guard against having any corporate view.”
Keeping in mind that the reasons for such “corporate neutrality,” as we may term it, are ever bit as compelling for the S.P.R. as for the Royal Society (if not more so, if only because of the far more narrow access to necessary resources of all kinds and the far greater vulnerability to error and to public alienation that exists in our field of inquiry), these Presidential words can only have echoed the collective prudence of our Society’s leadership: “...If we are going to maintain our tradition as a scientific Society, we must fall into line with what is the general practice of such societies...” And he cautioned that, “...it would never do for the Royal Society as a body to say that they support this theory or that and I do not think we as a Society for Psychical Research should come down in favour of one or another hypothesis. I think this is something we must guard against absolutely.”
In holding that the S.P.R. must “guard against” saying “that it definitely favours one view... rather than another,” and that lending “favour” to “one or another hypothesis” is something it “must guard against absolutely,” no opportunity remains for the S.P.R. to play the role of “official debunker.” Both Sir Alister Hardy (in 1967) and erstwhile S.P.R. Editor, Dr. Alan Gauld (in 1975) have only echoed long-standing official policy when saying, respectively, “the S.P.R. must also guard against having any corporate views” and “...the Society holds no corporate opinion...” And what is most interesting is that the remarks of both officers were directly elicited by discussion of the myth associated with the “official status” of the December 1885 Report in question. As we shall soon see, these disclaimers are but some among the more recent of a long series of informal, unofficial denials discrediting this myth, and a series which carries us as far back as some months prior to the first appearance of the disputed Report of 1885. The earliest of these was by the revered Founder-President of the S.P.R., the distinguished Professor Henry Sidgwick, who was the first to perceive the need and urgency within the Society for a restrictive (though, paradoxically, dogma-free) policy of “corporate neutrality”, the original groundwork for which he personally initiated in 1884.
First ratified as official policy early in 1885, and a guiding principle for the Society’s function down to the present, this inflexible rule or fixed position is one clearly dictating that The Society for Psychical Research, as a collective and corporate entity acting through the Council which is its only authoritative mouthpiece and elected governing body, expresses no opinion and issues no verdict, expressed or implied, but officially holds to strict neutrality, on any and every subject within its chosen fields of interest, on every case, claim and counter-claim alike, open to study, inquiry, investigation and scientific research or experimentation by its Members or by committees (appointed or voluntary) of its Members.
Some years ago, in answer to the writer’s suggestion that the Council of the S.P.R. issue an official statement definitively discrediting the myth at issue, information was offered that, “The Council is willing to publish a short statement to the effect that the Society does not express, and never has expressed, corporate opinions, and this statement could include specific reference to the report of the Theosophical Committee” (Dr. Alan Gauld, 2 June 1975).
Eight years earlier, also in response to a somewhat similar suggestion by this writer, a statement was made that, “It has always been one of the main functions of our Society to set up committees, either to carry out or encourage investigations into different paranormal phenomena and to print in its Proceedings such results as it deems worthy of publication but without accepting any corporate opinion on them” (Sir Alister Hardy, 23 February 1967).
We shall soon learn how true it is that the S.P.R. “never” has expressed corporate opinion, or that in printing in its Proceedings the results of investigations by committees it has “set up,” the S.P.R. has “always” published such without accepting any corporate opinion on them. For now, however, we cite these reasoned opinions of prominent S.P.R. officials of our time to demonstrate the great measure of both importance and fidelity customarily attached to the principle of “corporate neutrality.” Other than the pernicious myth now under dissection, no falsehood in the 102-year history of this Society has been so flagrantly calculated to blind the reading public to its dedication to this basic policy, to even the existence of this essential rule of primary conduct. It is the one myth which, were it not now officially discredited, if not directly and definitively debunked, would thrive unchecked as the most dangerous and universal of popular misconceptions ever sent against The Society for Psychical Research and its mode of work. Too long already this mischievous fiction, unimpeded, has served only to conceal from the public generally—and, at all levels, scientists, particularly—the important fact that the conduct of our Society is guided by a basic policy position shared with other leading scientific associations. Both in the range of its prolific propagation, its thriving growth and hardy persistence for 99 years—so that now it seems more entrenched than ever—, and in the number and publicly accredited “authority” of those who originated or having diligently promoted it, this myth seems unparalleled and unprecedented for its type. Succinctly put, it has resulted in unfairly fathering upon our Society, as we shall see, what can only be adequately described as a “bastard” report, thus portraying The Society for Psychical Research as loose in judgment, wanton in opinion, and promiscuous in embracing charges of condemnation. Indeed, for students seeking to discriminate between the true and the false, this myth is a living specimen of just how easily a false tale in the hands of skeptics and disbelievers, as in those of their counterparts, can quickly become enshrined for what passes as an enduring truth.
2. THE MYTH: ITS 99-YEAR GROWTH.
The subject of Madame Blavatsky has without doubt been the most widely-known controversy with which our Society’s name has been linked; and a check of encyclopaedias, for example, will show that it has brought greater publicity to the Society than any other single case encountered. In the Presidential Address on the occasion of the Society’s Golden Jubilee, this was singled out by Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick as one case which had had “a great effect on our understanding...” (Proceedings, S.P.R., XLI, p. 9); and today, as a legitimate subject for discussion, in this field, it is neither dead nor can it be killed by treating it with contempt, whatever one may think about “that old scallywag, H.P.B.” and her occult claims. Whatever view one may have of such matters, one can agree with what seemingly is indicated to be the current position of this Society’s present leadership, viz., that the case against Mme Blavatsky ought to stand on its own legs and not on the back of the S.P.R. But how can this possibly be assured when the world—at least the whole of the “informed” world—has been led by “authorities” and “experts” to believe that the investigation and chief condemnation of Mme Blavatsky was by The Society for Psychical Research itself?
Mr. W.H. Salter, sometime President and long-time Hon. Secretary of the S.P.R., objected that, “Theosophists have always challenged these conclusions which they impute to the S.P.R., notwithstanding its time-honoured policy of never expressing a corporate opinion” (Journal, S.P.R., September 1960, p. 330). But this is only the least of it. If this imputation is false, the editors and editorial boards of leading encyclopaedias, standard reference works, and dictionaries do not know it, as may be seen by consulting such as those of Lewis Spence, Nandor Fodor (in this field) and The Catholic Encyclopaedia, Collier’s, Chambers, The New Century, Everyman’s, and American Biographies. For example, the experts at G. and C. Merriam Co., publishers of America’s most authoritative dictionary, teach of Mme Blavatsky: “Many of her so-called miracles demonstrated (1884) as fraudulent by the Society for Psychical Research” (Webster’s Biographical Dictionary). In the forefront of those teaching this can be found—with but two or three exceptions, subsequent and privy to the 1968 Cutten-letter to Time—all the major biographers of H.P.B. (from Sinnett, Foote, H. Carrington, Maskelyne, Doyle, Solovyoff, Butt, Kingsland, Kuhn, J. McCabe, Corson, Bechofer-Roberts, the Hares, Ransome, Hastings, Ryan, Neff, Gertrude Marvin Williams, Vania, Prof. E.M. Butler, Greenwalt, Baird, H. Thurston, Rawcliffe, Redfern, Symonds, Nethercot, Endersby, on down to Bruce Campbell and Ms. Marion Meade, authoress of the longest and most pretentious of these biographical exercises). Thus, the earliest hostile biographer, Arthur Lillie, wrote, “Was she really a physical medium? The Society for Psychical Research has answered NO! with some emphasis” (Madame Blavatsky and Her ‘Theosophy,’ London, 1895, 9. 3).
[More recent examples promoting the myth and to be quoted here will be:
McGraw-Hill’s Encyclopaedia of the Unexplained, edited by Cavendish;
The Encyclopaedia Britannica III;
Notable American Woman, 1607-1950, published by The Belknap Press of
Ancient Wisdom Revived, by Bruce Campbell, Ph.D.,
Madame Blavatsky: The Woman Behind the Myth, by Marion Meade, Putnam & Sons, 1980;
Review of the latter, Journal of the American S.P.R., July 1981, the authenticity of the Cutten-letter of 1968 to Time having been called into question in this periodical, the Editor not caring to take the trouble to inquire of S.P.R. HQ! (See copies of correspondence between this writer and the late A.S.P.R. Editor Dale, supplied Feb. 26, 1984.)]
In quite the same manner, responsibility is laid at the door of the S.P.R. by editors and reviewers of such newspapers and periodicals as: The Review of Reviews; The Sydney Morning Herald; Light; London Star; Borderland; New York Times; The Times of London; Saturday Review of Literature; Newsweek; Time; Presbyterian Banner; Church Times; Religion; Christian Century; Studies; Fortnightly Review; The Catholic Register; San Francisco Examiner; Tomorrow; The Economist; The Freethinker; The Times Literary Supplement; The Listener; and American Weekly. In 1967, the writer prepared for information of Council a “Compilation of World Opinion on The S.P.R. and H.P.B.,” including extracts from some 90 published sources propagating the myth; since then the number on hand—and steadily increasing with each passing year—well exceeds 100 today!
3. A Century of Ineffectual (Unofficial) “Disclaimers”.
[This will be a three-part section, covering the following subjects, with full documentation:
(i) Re: “disclaimer” prefixed to covers of the Proceedings, but beginning only with Vol. IX as originally published, insofar as I can ascertain, ergo, 8-9 yrs. After the 1885 Rpt.
(ii) A “disclaimer” notice, reporting the new policy of “corporate neutrality”, p. 200 of Proceedings, Vol. III, as clothbound, opposite to the title page of the Dec. 1885 Rpt.-but p. 200 is the last page of Pt. VIII, whereas p. 201 is the first page of Pt. IX and the two parts were generally distributed to the S.P.R. Membership and sold to the public separately, so that very, very few would find this “disclaimer” and the Report’s first page juxtaposed.
(iii) A critical review of the personal and unofficial “disclaimers” in print (some ten in number) made by Presidents and officers of the Society since Professor Sidgwick’s (the first, all others within these last 55 years), at least half of these in response to the writer’s 17 years of agitation upon this issue, but none to date both accurate and comprehensive. Even so, NONE of these disclaiming statements have conveyed the authority of the COUNCIL, the Society’s sole OFFICIAL voice—hence, it would be difficult, if possible at all, to find another case of such prolonged official silence (more than 98 years of silence) in the face of such provocation and falsehood as promoted by this myth about the S.P.R.’s want of “corporate neutrality” and scientific objectivity! In view of this absence of official denial by the Society’s highest body, and having to rely only upon the personal opinions expressed by individual officers—however high their office in the S.P.R.—, the audience cannot be censured if they naturally set these opinions beside the contrary expressions (and actions) of Frank Podmore, Edmund Gurney, F.W.H. Myers, Richard Hodgson (as well as Walter Leaf, Alice Johnson, et al.), the latter being also not only officers of the Society for their day, but, moreover, participants of the contemporary and controversial events at issue, facts suggesting superficially that the authority of the latter ought to take precedence on this question! Therefore, the only possible recourse left to us, in search of the truth of the mater, is to dig out the real facts at the historical root of the problem and to sift these for an answer.]
II – REALITY VERSUS MYTH
1. Before “Corporate Neutrality”: 1882-1884.
[A more comprehensive discussion of the published and printed record of relations showing the Council’s “general responsibility” for the Reports of its Committees during this period prior to the institution of “corporate neutrality.” In addition to those points of evidence cited in this regard within pp. 1-3 of the “(Suggested) OFFICIAL STATEMENT” and in sources identified and referred to by Notes numbers therein, the following will be included:
(a) Proc., SPR, I, p. 158: “By permission of the Council, this report has been somewhat modified and enlarged, since it was read before the Society...” Compare with the vastly increased scope, significant modifications, and great enlargement of the reports by the Committee and by Dr. Hodgson (then treated and read separately, through afterwards amalgamated as Parts “1” and “2” of the final Committee “Reports” of Dec. 1885) subsequent to their initial presentation to the Society at the Meeting in May and June 1885—yet (under the “change of relations” brought about by the new “corporate neutrality” policy of 30 December 1884) nothing is said of “permission of the Council” being granted or expected for these latter changes in 1885.
(b) Proc., SPR, I, p. 158. At First Anniversary Meeting, Council reported: “The practical work of the Society has been carried on chiefly by means of the Committees”—ergo, these Committees, as tools of the Society, were doing the work of the Society in the course of their investigations and experimentation.
(c) “Circular No. 1,” p. i, “The research-work of the Society is at present divided between six Committees, elected by the Council from among the Members and Associates.” The S.P.R. President is “ex officio member of all Committees.”
(d) Proc., SPR, III, p. 65: “In reply to the question, what has the Society done? ...In autumn of last year a Report of the Committee on Theosophical Phenomena was issued for private circulation only.”
(e) Proc., SPR, II, p. 44: “2nd Report of the Literary Committee” (members: Wm. F. Barrett, F.W.H. Myers, C.C. Massey, Frank Podmore, Edmund Gurney, Stainton Moses), “...our Society claims to have proved the reality of Thought-transference...” if not by the experiments of its “Committee on Thought-transference” and related findings of other Council-appointed Committees, then how? This certainly identifies the investigative work of the Committee and their findings with official Society opinion and “claims”.]
2. The Committee of 2 May 1884.
[Here a chronological narrative of the investigative Committee, beginning with some background information on Mme Blavatsky, the claims made in connection with her reputed “occult powers” and relations with “Trans-Himalayan Adepts”, and on her earliest dealings with the S.P.R., directly or via her associates (Sinnett, Olcott, Mohini, et al.), together with notice taken of the initial comments and expectations on and for this interchange as expressed in the S.P.R. Proc. & Jnl. Concentrating upon the first 8 months of its existence, this delineates the period in which both the Committee investigation and reports were “official”, approved and accepted by the Council.]
3. “A Change in Relations”: “Corporate Neutrality” Adopted.
[Discussion of the changes from the Council’s own approval of “corporate
4. The Investigating Committee in 1885.
[Here one follows chronologically the Investigating Committee’s subsequent course of activity in 1885: its further investigations; and its additional reports (including its “Final Report”)—no part of which activity, unlike that of 1884, was to be “official” or “work of the Society.”]
5. The Committee’s “Final Report” Evades All “Standard Procedures”
[Facts set forth in the “(Suggested OFFICIAL STATEMENT”, under IV, V, VI, and VII are here incorporated with additional evidence and complete documentation, under (i), (ii), (iii), and (iv), respectively, to show that, in the course of its progress during preparation and emergence into print, the final Committee Report of December 1885 was at every step accorded unique and irregular treatment, so that it effectively evaded every standard procedure and safeguard afforded by the Society’s established Rules and accepted custom!
(i) The Committee of Reference.
(ii) “Rule 24.”
(iii) The Literary Committee.
(iv) Costs and Payment of Costs, and Payor, unknown.
(v) Conclusions on the “Bastardy” of this Report, without legitimacy.
(vi) On the Question of Motive for these Evasions.
In respect to this least sub-section and the question to which it pertains, the amazing fact is that, insofar as the available—or, at least, the printed and/or published—record shows, none but the authors of this “final Report” (plus their earliest and most prominent witness against Mme Blavatsky, viz., C.C. Massey of the S.P.R. Council) seem to have been privileged or permitted to examine it prior to publication. The pattern of evasion is complete, consistent, and certainly appears to have been purposeful. The motivating factor behind this extraordinary behavior can hardly have been trepidation, anticipation that peer inspection would destroy the Report’s prospects—for to have published without consultation a reported deemed so unworthy, would simply have destroyed its author’s “prospects” with the same peer-judges! On the other hand, seeing that Dr. Hodgson’s portion of the Report incorporated extracts from unpublished private letters of H.P.B., extracts he quoted and used in what was obviously a deliberate attempt to thwart or end her public career, and to destroy the public esteem in whatever measure she enjoyed, anyone forwarding his project by partaking in the publication of this Report—howbeit, ostensibly for the public good—had to consider the possible prospect of being arraigned as a party-defendant in any legal suit Mme Blavatsky might eventually initiate. Was the motive then simply to save all but these committed eight, the authors and Massey, from the embarrassment, inconvenience and expense of just such an eventuality—by deftly arranging that no one else, the S.P.R. itself, as a legal entity, least of all, should be placed in circumstance that might be construed as supporting or approving this character-chopping endeavor? Hardly so, for the unauthorised use of the private letters in question was confined to Dr. Hodgson’s exposition of his “Russian spy” charge or theory directed against H.P.B., an exercise in fantasy not approved by the Committee, and which, by no stretch of imagination, could be construed as a tolerable barrier to legitimatising their Report. If this had been what would have compelled their resort to irregularities, Dr. Hodgson’s “Account” would quickly have been shortened by the totality of the misappropriated correspondence.
To discover a purpose behind these systematic evasions, and a motive arising naturally, logically and inevitably but not from ulterior design, necessitates a thorough reconsideration of the manner and means by which the Committee—Dr. Hodgson excluded—arrived at its final judgment on Mme Blavatsky and the “marvelous phenomena” associated with her. Discovery of that will provide answers to some heretofore most enigmatic perplexities in this strangest of cases.
III – EPILOGUE: “NO OFFICIAL VERDICT WANTED”
1. “...to fish for ‘psychical’ phenomena in these troubled waters...”
Six months prior to the appearance of his “Account” in the last of the Investigating Committee’s reports, the Journal, S.P.R., had printed a summary of the “results of his investigations” as presented orally by Dr. Hodgson to a General Meeting of the Society on the 29th of May, as well as of discussion by those present. Immediately followed this printed report, one finds the equivalent of a page of Editorial observation, “THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH” (Op. Cit., vol. I, pp. 424-5) in which the Editor, Henry Sidgwick, pointedly commented: “It would seem that the changes that have recently been made... especially in the relations between the Council and the Committees for experimental investigation, have not been altogether understood by all our Members; and that some of them are still disposed to regard the Society as holding, or bound to hold, opinions in its corporate capacity, and to consider the Council as shirking its work if it does not officially pronounce on all important questions that arise in any department of the researches which the Society was formed to promote.” To this, he added the cautionary information that, “Now an official ‘verdict’ on such questions is just what the Society, as at present constituted, does not seek to obtain, or authorise the Council to pronounce.” Twenty-five pages later in the same number we find notice taken of a letter from a critic who purported to find “the Society for Psychical Research... declaring adherence to Mr. Hodgson’s conclusions...” The Editorial response to this is that, “...we feel bound to point out that what he says involves a complete misapprehension of the facts of the case”—at once adding, “the Council of the Society for Psychical Research has expressed no opinion whatever” (Op. cit., p. 448). And it never did; and none ever has!
Unfortunately, because the Society’s Journal was at that time distributed to Members and Associates only, this cogently juxtaposed warning could have had no restraining effect upon the genesis of public mythology concerning the Society’s relation to Mme Blavatsky by investigation or judgment.
[See final paragraph, p. 6 of “(Suggested) OFFICIAL STATEMENT”]
No scientific society or group can add one whit of credit to a truth. It is the truth which accredits the group or society—when it can be shown that the latter encouraged, promoted or supported pioneering research which hastened or made possible the discovery of that truth. Neither was a scientific truth ever established by “the democratic process,” by a show of hands, by a majority vote.
But if an “official verdict” were to be wanted in such matters, and so unanimously confirmed by those of a society or group rash and naive enough to presume to accredit the verdict on the results of an investigation or experiment, with acceptance subject to just such form of approval—when then? As a new discovery of truth can accredit a society or group, so also it can discredit those who, unwittingly, have chosen to enshrine error within their own body of dogma. Had the prestigious scientific societies of the 19th Century declared “official verdicts” with “finality” on all the “scientific truths” then acceptable to their memberships by more-or-less unanimity, where would be one of them today not fit for laughing stock? Would an “official verdict” of some 40 years ago, of a Council “unanimously” in favour of accepting the “authenticity” of the Soal-Shackleton “experiments in telepathy,” today either enhance the prestige of the S.P.R. or spare the experimenter’s name from contempt? In so volatile and tentative a pursuit as “scientific research,” and especially research into so elusive a subject as those phenomena which our Society has chosen as its special purview despite, on the whole, their hardy persistence while yet evading final determination down the long history of civilised inquiry, it ill-behooves any organised body of serious inquirers, of whom very few indeed can hope ever to be witnesses, to wield the stamp of “verdict,” be it “official” or “final”!
2. The Unrecognised Basis of the Committee’s “Final Verdict.”
There was a time, it can be said, when not a dissenting voice could be heard within our Society to question the irrefutable certitude usually engendered by experiencing the “devastating exposure” of the tricks of Madame Blavatsky, revealed in all the stark finality of that utter disproof brought triumphantly to the contest by “the Hodgson Report.” And yet, behind this impressive “show of hands,” how many actual witnesses were there to any of the physical evidences upon which the “exposure” was purportedly based? Precious few. This is seen in the Committee’s final “Statement and Conclusions” [p. 205] when they recognise that, “Mr. Hodgson’s account of his investigations... will be found to form by far the largest and most important part of the present Report.” Even so, they confess that, “after examining Mr. Hodgson’s report of the results of his personal inquires,” they “do not feel called upon to express any definite conclusion” as to “the correctness of Mr. Hodgson’s explanation of particular marvels, ...since on the one hand, they are not in a position to endorse every detail of this explanation, and on the other hand they have satisfied themselves as to the thoroughness of Mr. Hodgson’s investigations, and have complete reliance on his impartiality, and they recognise that his means of arriving at a correct conclusion are far beyond any to which they can lay claim.”
But if not upon Hodgson’s “explanation of particular marvels,” on what then did the Committee, itself as a whole, rely?
The heretofore unsuspected and amazing answer to this does not emerge until we come to analyse the only two “conclusions” put forward by the Committee with complete certainty of guilt and fakery on the part of Mme Blavatsky respecting “phenomena connected with the Theosophical Society.” These conclusions were “unanimously arrived at” by the Committee, “after carefully weighing all the evidence before them...” The first of the two was, “that of the letters put forward by Madame Coulomb, all those, at least, which the Committee have had the opportunity of themselves examining, and of submitting to the judgment of experts, are undoubtedly written by Madame Blavatsky; and suffice to prove that she has been engaged in a long-continued combination with others persons to produce by ordinary means a series of apparent marvels for the support of the Theosophic movement” (p. 204).
The second of the two is, “That in particular, the Shrine at Adyar,
through which letters purporting to come from Mahatmas were received, was
elaborately arranged with a view to the secret insertion of letters and other
objects through a sliding panel at the back, and regularly used for this purpose
by Madame Blavatsky or her agents.” Since this second conclusion is an
unavoidable corollary of the first which precedes it, inasmuch as the
incriminating portions of “the Blavatsky-Coulomb correspondence,”—letters
put forward by Madame Coulomb”—bespeak surreptitious entry to the Shrine at
Adyar (as Hodgson’s extracts there from and analysis shows in his “Account,” pp.
211-219), the Committee members apart from the latter need have considered
no “evidence” beyond “all those” letters mentioned in their first
“conclusion” in order to arrive inevitably at their second, supposing of course
that they accepted as authentic the letters so examined. In other words, if they
believed the first, they also had to accept the second conclusion; and,
in fact, their expressions of certitude of H.P.B.’s guilt did not exceed this
joint-measure, the limited ground covered by the “incriminating passages” of the
“correspondence.” From the first word of these being “put forward by Madame
Coulomb,” it was clearly evident that the Committee was intent upon deciding the
issue, the whole case if possible, on the strength of these “letters.” The
Committee Chairman, Prof. Sidgwick, reports that, “Mr. Hodgson
accordingly went out to
And when hearing it “spoken of Mr. Hodgson’s scrutiny as though it had not embraced the whole field of the phenomena,” Committeeman F.W.H. Myers sagely retorted that, “The field covered by the Blavatsky-Coulomb letters was surely wide enough...” (Ibid., p. 457).
Dr. Hodgson professed to reach and find “the conclusion unavoidable that the phenomena in question were actually due to fraudulent arrangement” by way of his gathering evidence “altogether apart from either these letters or the statements of the Coulombs...” (Proc., Pt. IX, pp. 313, 312). Now while I have elsewhere (Jnl., SPR, Dec., 1969) shown without prospect of any documented contradiction, that his boast of not having, “in coming to this conclusion, trusted to any unverified statements of the Coulombs” (Ibid., p. 210) is “the big lie” to conceal the truth that it was, quite to the contrary, the uncorroborated, unsupported Coulomb testimony upon which Hodgson, when it suited his purpose, depended totally for crucial “evidence” to close up the otherwise gaping lacunae in his most essential arguments. Even so, however, I submit that there was by far a greater danger in attempting to reach correct judgment for a definitive conclusion by examining the handwriting of the letters the Coulombs brought forward than by examining the testimony the Coulombs had given, orally, in writing, and in print.
It was simply this: a contradiction of known fact, or a self-contradiction, can be more readily discerned, more assuredly ascertained, and far more indisputably proven, if present, in human testimony than (as in this case) the question of guilt or innocence can be determined by subjective evaluation of the subtilities and variations to be interpreted between specimens of human calligraphy. Will it be held then that Hodgson’s fellow-Committee members were too obtuse to realise this, too impatient to put the Coulomb testimony to a searching examination, or simply too prepossessed to be able to find any contradictious in it? They certainly chose to gain their final verdict by the most expeditious but, at the same time, the most precarious and least reliable of routes open to them! No prudent person today, knowing of the bizarre and sorry record of failures, blunders and costly misjudgments (not the least costly in human misery suffered by innocent victims of such misjudgments) of even professional handwriting experts of the highest credited standing—from the case of Capt. Dreyfus to that of the “Howard Hughes’ ‘Memoirs’ mss. and check” or the “Adolf Hitler ‘Diaries’”—, would for a moment think of daring to answer such important questions as confronted this Committee inquiry of 1884-85 simply by relying implicitly and naively on anyone’s visual scanning of disputed handwriting specimens!
Did other Members of the Society’s Council have opportunity to even do as much during the short interval these documents were in England (“under the particular condition that they should be returned as soon as possible; and they were actually sent back to India before my arrival in England,” testifies Hodgson, Jnl., SPR, II, p. 111). Besides his experts Netherclift and Sims, Hodgson mentions only the “members of our Committee, including myself,” as having been privileged to inspect these (Ibid., pp. 109-10). Not only was no photograph of so much as a single incriminating scrap permitted to be taken, in the end Mme Coulomb quite failed to exhibit her gratitude to the S.P.R. for her “vindication”—leaving to the Society not one of these historic paper tokens of what she must have known, if anyone knew, was the handiwork of one of history’s “most accomplished, ingenious, and interesting imposters...”
At any rate, realising that the Committee’s members were unwilling to attempt a conclusive judgment on the case of Mme Blavatsky unless based upon tangible evidence perceptible to their own physical senses—and not going beyond this narrowest of purviews in assessing positive proof of guilt against H.P.B. and her fellow-suspects (not even when Dr. Hodgson and Mrs. Sidgwick teamed-up in a joint but vain effort to convince all the unpersuaded that most of the “Mahatma letters” had been written by H.P.B. “in a feigned hand”)—, one now readily detects the motivation behind the Committee’s resolution to see its last Report into print with the least possible disturbance of the tranquility of other Members of Council. It was simply that they were unprepared to ask of others what they themselves had been unprepared to surrender, viz., their judgment of the case without first examining the tangible evidence of “Blavatsky-Coulomb letters,” examination denied to these others and, with the return of the specimens to India, an opportunity never to be repeated, as Dr. Hodgson doubtless could have knowingly assured them. Had not the Committee Chairman, when first introducing to the Council a year before his views on the necessity for a new policy of “corporate neutrality,” pointedly remarked upon the fact that “men of scientific reputation... would be reluctant to pledge themselves to the conclusions of any investigation in which they personally been concerned.” True, under the new policy there was no necessity to so “pledge themselves,”—but when they themselves had found it impossible to reach any positive conclusion on the question of Mme Blavatsky’s guilt or on that of the reality of the “occult wonders” surrounding her, by following Dr. Hodgson’s testimony and “evidence,” so that, after all, they had felt obligated to expressly excuse themselves from “any definite conclusion” on “the correctness of Mr. Hodgson’s explanation of particular marvels,” what embarrassment might be worked upon not only the Committee but even the Society itself by even more for-reaching disclaimers that might be tagged to the Report by the distinguished members of the Committee of Reference or by the Council (especially if the latter were obliged to receive and disburse a large sum for the publication of the self-same Report) and when, unlike the members of this Investigating Committee, these numerous peer-judges had been denied opportunity to inspect the selection-on-loan of “Blavatsky-Coulomb letters” specimens.
3. An “Impossible” Discovery: First Physical Proof of Coulomb Forgery.
One may be sure there are many whose obstinate incredulity is so obsessive that no amount of circumstantial evidence would persuade them that Madame Blavatsky did not write the whole of the “Blavatsky-Coulomb letters.” They refuse to consider anything that has been discovered and published in her favour on this issue; and no number of professional handwriting opinions, when conflicting with their preconceived beliefs, would sway them. These diehard skeptics demand the impossible, for the only disproof of her guilt they would accept is if they themselves could say they had seen (with physical eyes) the Coulombs sitting with pen, pencil and paper in hand and concocting the incriminating scraps!
However, for reasonable minds, there are other measures of evidence short of this, constituting proof of forgery. And the best of these possible alternatives would provide proof not dependent upon anyone’s subjective opinion, proof that at least a portion of this controversial “correspondence,” a document written by H.P. Blavatssky and put into the Coulomb hands, WAS subsequently tampered with and altered by them to fit their own ulterior motives. Such knowledge becomes possible only when one can view such a document both after and before the forger’s tampering. Impossible for us today, you say? Ah, but let us see...
First, however, there was indeed one witness who swore to this very thing, viz., Miss. Mary Flynn (pp. 128-29, REPORT OF THE RESULT OF AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE CHARGES AGAINST MADAME BLAVATSKY, BROUGHT BY THE MISSIONARIES OF THE SCOTTISH FREE CHURCH AT MADRAS, AND EXAMINED BY A COMMITTEE APPOINTED FOR THAT PURPOSE BY THE General Council of the Theosophical Society; January 1885). Miss. Flynn, at Bombay, in her written disposition of November 29th, 1884, states that in December 1883 she had been shown by Mme Coulomb the original “Poona letter” written to the latter by Mme Blavatsky (see Meade, pp. 272-73) and that “many of the passages” of the real (authentic) letter may be found in the “concoction” which later appeared in The Christian College Magazine of 1884 (pp. 204-05; 307-09), but that, nevertheless, the full content of the original thus seen and the published text of that brought forward by Mme Coulomb afterwards and so published, are not the same. (Oddly enough, this testimony has escaped printed notice since its first appearance.) As with most witnesses for H.P.B., whom Ms. Meade, for one, variously denigrates as hallucinated, hypnotised, psychotic, or just plain obtuse, Miss. Flynn, in the latter’s book, is set down as one more of “the crazies...”
In respect to this testimony, however, the facts-on-record go to show the
witness was talking better sense then is her critic in the latter’s
specious spiel, on behalf of “the Blavatsky-Coulomb letters”, rejecting what she
describes as the mixing of “genuine messages with forged excerpts” (?) “either
recopied” (?) or “somehow spliced” together (?)! Mrs. Beatrice Hastings, whom
Meade adamantly ignores, has found a clue as to how much of the real
mixing was done—particularly in the case of this very document, “the
Alluding to “the Poona letters” of Miss. Flynn’s criticism, Hastings adds: “the last, the famous ‘Sassoon telegram’ letter, opens with sixty-one ordinary epistolary lines”—a rich fund for Meade to tap in an obvious attempt to dignify her “opinion” that the “letters to Emma Coulomb... are genuine,” and to which she attaches more footnotes than to any other of the lot!
—, “and then [continues
* Here Mrs. Hastings might well have added that the authentic text of the real (genuine portion of) letter supplies solid evidence that this “end paragraph” of (1884) “fraud” instruction follows the paragraph which closed the original letter of 1883. The last sentence of this latter paragraph read: “many things to say, but no time or room” (preceding, in the Coulomb version, p. 69, four paragraphs and the closing initials, “H.P.B.”—this disputed section beginning, “Now, dear, let us change the programme”). One may hardly suppose the “Madame Blavatsky” of Coulomb, Hodgson and Meade, fixated upon defrauding “Jacob Sassoon, the happy proprietor of a crore of rupees,” would have wasted time and space on all the trivia and ephemeral gossip crammed into the opening 126 (printed) lines of this letter (the counting of “rents and holes” in her “twenty-six” rupee “fraud” dress, a “mattress spoiled!”, Babula’s tears, Mary Flynn, “walking bare-footed in the mud,” “a pretty tape-worm” episode, etc., etc.) so as to leave neither time nor space to write more, all before thinking to “change the programme” to one of relieving Mr. Sassoon of some of his rupees (“10,000” to be exact, according to the “end paragraph”). Neither can one imagine the complicated instructions so exactly set forth to achieve this delightful coup would have been of so sudden birth in that instant between penning the final sentence and adding a signature. For “no time or room”—if it means anything at all—means just what it implies, viz., no time or page-space to ‘say’ anything more in this letter H.P.B.’s pen had reached the bottom line of the reverse side of a sully-inscribed letter-sheet, and she had no intention of taking up another to add anything else. The Coulombs, of course, were under no such limitation!
paragraph,” continues Mrs. Hastings, “of a letter of the paper of which we have some description.
“Mr. Gribble, the amateur calligraphist called in by the Rev. Patterson after the ‘Collapse’ articles in the ‘C.C.M.’ had excited some indignation, was a retired petty judge and an occasional contributor to the Rev. Patterson’s journal. His opinion of the possible existence of Mahatmas may only be guessed, for he takes care not to express it but only insists on his impartiality. We may safely enough guess that he could not believe H.P.B. to be anything but a humbug. But his training as a judge told in more than one instance and he did not deny the evidence of his eyes... His pamphlet on the handwriting frequently verges on the serio-comic, but, with regard to this letter of the sixty-one lines with the last paragraph sudden bolt from the blue, he seems to have felt it incumbent upon him to state that it was written on—two sheets of grey paper and one of pink.” Reducing the printed lines to a common length, these three sheets, written both sides, would accommodate the total of 196 “lines,” 37 per full page (the genuine text with signature, later trimmed off by the forger, 148 lines on four sides of grey paper from Poona, October 24, 1883; the added forgery of 48 lines covering one side and more of the pink).
“If the Theosophists had ever been allowed to examine the paper of these letters... but then, they were not allowed.” Neither, it seems in this particular instance were Richard Hodgson’s calligraphic experts—for, of the ten “BLAVATSKY-COULOMB DOCUMENTS” submitted to Netherclift for his professional examination, and of the 9 of these certified in his published Report (no “statements” of his about these having “been omitted”) as “written by Madame Blavatsky,” (See S.P.R. Committee Report, pp. 381 and 382) this “Poona letter, two pages of grey paper and one of pink) is not one of them. Doubtless, the legal training of Richard Hodgson, LL.D., “told” here too, so that he also could “not deny the evidence of his eyes” when undertaking to select just what his experts would be “allowed to examine”—and, more importantly, “not allowed” to pronounce upon publicly.
Fortunately the inquisitive student of the Blavatsky case today is not bound by what Ms. Meade’s captive audience is “allowed” or “not allowed” to examine. Barred by time and circumstance from examining directly the calligraphy and ink and paper of any one of these contested documents (or indirectly, by photography), either before or after they reached the missionaries, incredibly there still remains opportunity to detect the tampering Coulomb handiwork both AFTER AND BEFORE. Despite the lapse of 100 years, and though overlooked and undetected prior to discovery by this writer in 1980, and dependent upon no one’s veracity, vulnerable memory, or subjective opinion, there still remains before us—in black on white on the indelible record-books of history and as bought to us by none other than the bitterest enemies of Madame Blavatsky (by Emma Coulomb herself, in the one instance; and in the other, by her missionary sponsors!) unimpeachable PROOF of Madame Coulomb’s shameless and calculating propensity to resort to FORGERY, of whatever sort the circumstances would accommodate in order to serve her own deceptive, ulterior purpose and design by altering and tampering with, by subtracting from and adding to, the authentic written words of Madame Blavatsky.
During the course of my three-way comparison of the content of quotations entered in Meade’s book and attributed to the (5) primary anti-Blavatsky sources, but obtained surreptitiously from unacknowledged secondary sources, I chanced to compare both the Coulomb pamphlet and the Christian College Magazine texts of the Blavatsky-Coulomb document from which Meade (p. 280) quotes, “I leave my rooms entirely in the charge of Madame and M. Coulomb, my dogs likewise; and want Madm. To take charge of the cleaning with my bearer under her orders.” (It would have been a simple matter for Mme Coulomb to underline—thus “italicise”—any part she might choose of this document, with no likelihood of detection by the methods of Netherclift and Sims.) This quotation is verbatim with the document-text as it appears in the missionary journal (October, 1884; p. 293). But on reading the Coulomb pamphlet of November, 1884 (first edition, p. 77), I found that hardly before the ink had time to dry on the Rev. Patterson’s printed transcription, Emma Coulomb had altered the passage to read: I leave my rooms entirely in the charge of Madame and M. Coulomb, my dogs likewise; and want Madou to take charge of the cleaning with my bearer under his orders.”
Here there can be no doubt of tampering, of deliberate alteration, of literary FORGERY. The missionary editor, with the original document in hand, and assisted in his task of preparing the texts for publication by none other than Mme Coulomb herself, “copying” for which she was paid, could not possibly have miscopied “Madm.” For “Madou” or “her” for “his.” He nowhere complains of any difficulty in deciphering H.P.B.’s script. Nor could Mme Coulomb mistake “m.” for “ou” or “er” for “is”. What, then, was it that impelled the latter to his daring, impudent chicanery in the face of what might have seemed the certainty of exposure, considering the simultaneous circulation of Patterson’s conflicting text? Vanity—it was, observes Meade (on the overleaf), Mme Coulomb’s “constant lament that she had sunk from a life of luxury to a position of servitude as Madame’s housekeeper.” After “The Collapse of Koot Hoomi” hit the headlines across the world, this vanity inflated, feeding on the notoriety which pictured her (with her husband as designer and master craftsman of trick machinery) as both exposer and chief manipulator of what Meade (also p. 279) describes as “this trickery” which H.P.B. “had parlayed... into an international reputation that attracted admirers from all over the world.” Coveting for herself the public role of both the maker and breaker of Madame Blavatsky, greatest wonder-worker of the sage, Emma Coulomb (in the Preface to her pamphlet) let it be known by all that she did not want to be know as the Adyar “housekeeper” given “charge of the cleaning of H.P.B.’s rooms: “We have been represented as ‘menials’ ‘servants’ (servants are not usually addressed by their mistress as ‘Mes Enfants’!)...” So, having said this, the denial and the boast are promptly confirmed by a typical Coulomb miracle—Madm. Housekeeper is changed, hey, Presto! into “Madou.”
But here the magical feat engenders a twin-set of serious difficulties
overlooked by this vain forger in her hasty goal to clean her skirts. Who is
Madou? In the
4. How Hodgson Disarmed the Defence, by Deception.
Dr. Franz Hartmann and others in the autumn of 1884 thought they discovered “traces” of where a hole had existed in the wall behind the “shrine” at Theosophical Society HQ at Adyar. This judgment, drawn without consulting Mme Blavatsky who was absent in Europe, appears to have been founded on the evident fact that, after removal of the muslin and calico and upon moistening the whitewash on the west fact of the Shrine wall, signs of replastering were found where the Shrine had hung (after taking it down). But, while pretending that this “new discovery” vindicated the Coulomb claim of having first made and then repaired a thorough aperture at this spot, Hodgson nowhere attempts to show that there was any evidence that (as Emma Coulomb described it in her pamphlet) 35 to 48 square inches of brickwork had been “knocked” out together with the plaster and then replaced as alleged by his witnesses!
While there is no reason to doubt that some part of this wall-face had been replastered, the secret work implied by the Coulombs would have twice—on occasions separated by months—entailed disturbance of bricks, plaster, whitewash, tacked calico and hanging muslin, and would have demanded considerable caution, secresy and skill. This is a serious consideration which Hodgson’s account altogether ignores, and an obstacle which Mme Coulomb’s account hurries by in less than a sentence. Yet the latter declares that the repairing left “not the smallest trace of the previous existence of a hole.” But, as Mme Blavatsky asked Hodgson in one of her suppressed annotations (in Dr. Hodgson’s copy of the Coulomb pamphlet that appears to have resided for 70 years on the library shelf of the S.P.R., unconsulted until my discover of its existence about 1955), how can this be, considering the logical difficulties inherent in the task as envisioned by Mme Coulomb—not to speak of the “traces” (of whatever) discovered by Dr. Hartmann—?! It is obvious that merely applying a wet cloth to the wall surface, as was done by Hartmann and his fellow-Theosophists, would remove nothing but the whitewash, revealing no more than the fact of re-plastering, although a fact sufficient to assure Dr. Hartmann’s excited fancy that, contrary to what he had previously thought and published—and on equally superficial observation—, the Coulombs had after all managed to make and repair a “hole in the wall.”
Madame Blavatsky’s written explanation, unpublished until the 1930’s (see “My Justification”) was that the “traces” discovered by Hartmann were not traces of the Coulombs’ alleged hole, but simply evidence of replastering done after Mon. Coulomb, in hanging the Shrine (apparently before any thought was made of fixing calico and muslin to the wall), damaged the plaster as well as the Shrine itself then the latter’s heavy weight gave evidence of weakening its supporting shelf (an explanation fully in accord with Hodgson’s findings that the Shrine, built of heavy wood, was at the last supported both by a shelf beneath and by thicl iron wires above and yet did not rest level).
Mme Blavatsky’s annotations in Hodgson’s copy of the Coulomb pamphlet (made at a time when the “traces” of the “new discovery” were still a secret with Hartmann and others ignorant of Madame Blavatsky’s knowledge on the question) show that about the first week of January 1885 she gave this same sort of explanation to Hodgson personally, telling him where he might find traces left by Mon Coulomb’s blundering, where his nails had damaged the wall. The west surface of this wall (which Hartmann had tampered with) was again already resurfaced, but during Hodgson’s stay at T.S. HQ, the wall in Mme Blavatsky’s bedroom was removed, opening up the recess between the two and revealing the east face of the Shrine wall to inspect. Mme Blavatsky thus gave Hodgson to understand that by examining this newly exposed surface he could see what had done the damage, he could enter the recess himself and ascertain whether the evidence there to be seen revealed the kind of “breach” alleged by the Coulombs or simply damaging effects of heavy, misguided nails. Here was the acid test because it is inconceivable that Mon Coulomb, working in the dark, cramped, stuffy confines of this recess early in 1884 could have successfully re-bricked, re-plastered, re-finished, and re-painted the inner (east) face of the wall so as to leave there “not the smallest trace...”, for then he would have to had to make this finish match that of the surrounding wall, and without leaving tell-tale traces of whitewash or plaster or other signs of mending on the floor or on surroundings—and in a “vacuum” where there was hardly room to lift a hand! Nor is it at all conceivable why he would have been such a fool as to exhaust himself with such a futile task and at such danger (when he was not alone, for Theosophists were about to watch him, and hired carpenters were just outside on the terrace)—and all when no one could see this east face of the wall, concealed as it was within the recess, and when no one could gain access to it without first discovering the (alleged) secret entranceway to the recess, a passageway which, according to his wife’s story, he was even then preparing to effectively seal up forever against discovery!
So here Dr. Hodgson had his first real opportunity to test by concrete, material evidence the private explanations of Mme Blavatsky against the public proclamations of Mme Coulomb. What did he do? Did he enter the opened recess and examine the wall? Did he look for signs, whether of re-painting, re-finishing, re-plastering and re-bricking, traces of a thorough aperture—or of nothing more than damage done by heavy nails from the opposite side, thus corroborating Mme Blavatsky’s explanation of the replastering on the opposite face—? We can only deduce that he discovered the latter, for if he had found the evidence to support Mme Coulomb’s explanation, we should certainly have heard about it, for Hodgson was not one to suppress anything against Theosophical claims. What he did suppress, however, was the significance of this incident, for instead of telling his readers of 1885 that there had been such an opportunity for examination and test, instead of permitting the public to know that there had been such a way to resolve the conflict of claims and explanations, instead of allowing anyone to know that Mme Blavatsky had given such explanation at all, Hodgson in his “Account” within the December 1885 Committee Report, pretended that, being purposely misled by Damodar, he had been prevented from entering the recess and examining the exposed wall—but in his “Reply” of 8 years later (in the Proceedings, vol. IX, taking notice of Theosophical critics), Hodgson lets slip the fatal admission that he had then entered the recess and had examined this wall’s inner, east face, after all, though he is still careful not to say what he found there!! But what is most reprehensible in Richard Hodgson’s treatment of the Shrine of Koot Hoomi and the controversy surrounding it—if not also his most despicable dissimulation during the whole of this investigation—, is that, instead of acknowledging Mme Blavatsky’s personal information given him (by his own assertion at Adyar, near Madras, in January 1885 (Proc. III, p. 290) in order to show him that the wall behind the shrine had been replastered and why (canded information giving him the best possible tip as to how to test the Coulomb “explanation” and claim, and with it, at H.P.B.’s personal order for opening up of the recess, full opportunity to make that definitive test, and all at a time when, if guilty, Mme Blavatsky had every reason to avoid just such a test and to suppress the facts and to leave the recess sealed-up, and so join Dr. Hartmann and his ill-formed confidants in fostering secresy), this dissembler pretended that he only learned of this replastering three months later and not at Adyar but at Bombay, and not by information freely given him—least of all by Mme Blavatsky herself—but by what he deviously boasted was his own “independent investigation” resulting in a forced “confession” by Dr. Hartmann! (Proc. IX, pp. 133-35). Thus he concealed the source of the information by which he badgered Hartmann and other officials at the Headquarters, frightening them into a retreat and retraction which led to the withdrawal of Hartmann’s second Defence Report, after its issuance as an official document and the authoritative defence against the Coulomb-missionary attack, undistributed and recalled copies, bearing the imprint of the Council of the Theosophical Society, being thereafter burned! And while Hodgson thus used the information H.P.B. had given him, used it to her ruination, he altogether concealed the fact any explanation at all had been given on this point by Madame Blavatsky herself!
can any longer doubt that “one of the most accomplished, ingenious, and
interesting imposters in history” as not guilty but innocent, and was the tragic
victim of a monstrous and diabolical hoax, a malicious fraud, driven upon the
cruel and heartless cunning of a cheating, tricking, psychopathic charlatan, a
destroyer who successfully had infiltrated, intentions unsuspected, the
inner-most circle of the world’s chief center of interest in the scientific
investigation of the occult and the psychic? Little did his peers and
associates—his dupes—then anticipate or forsee the eventual baleful
influence Richard Hodgson was to implant upon the future course of Psychical
5. Sowing the Seeds of the Myth: Its Origins.
In the same number of the S.P.R. Journal as reported the reading of the “first part” of the “Report” of “Mr. Hodgson on Alleged ‘Theosophical’ Phenomena,” the Editor, Professor Sidgwick, took note of a letter from a critic who purported to find “the Society for Psychical Research... declaring adherence to Mr. Hodgson’s conclusions...” Editor Sidgwick demurred, saying, “...we feel bound to point out that what he says involves a complete misapprehension of the facts of the case.” To which was at once added, “The Council of the Society for Psychical Research has expressed no opinion whatever.” (Op. cit., p. 448)
and explicit, this disclaimer, indeed, the very first of such, was
to be found only in the privately circulated Journal. This
unfortunate circumstance enabled Frank Podmore and others of this very
Investigating Committee soon to bamboozle the public! Moreover, when their
Report appeared in the Proceedings, the supervising “Literary
Committee”—again, five members of the Committee—had good and sufficient reason
to add an explicit disclaimer to Part IX, which they did not, for
reasons known only to themselves. When, within the following year, again under
the Society's imprint, Phantasms of the Living made its debut (the
co-authors all having been members also of the Committee of
Hardly two months after publication of the Committee’s Report, Frank Podmore, Committee-member and Member of Council, was the first to blazon the myth in the public press, declaring in Time for Feb. 1886, under title, “The Society for Psychical Research and Madame Blavatsky,” that, “The Society for Psychical Research, it is true, has investigated the phenomenal basis of Theosophy,—the Wisdom Religion, —and has published the results of the investigation.”
It is believed that Podmore reprinted this (or a similar article) to be circulated as a pamphlet on the same theme.
Eight years later Hodgson again undertook to correct Mr. Sinnett, this time for an article, “H.P.B.” in The Review of Reviews for June, 1891. Here too, Sinnett has referred to “the tide of obliquy turned against her by the Psychical Research Society”—but Hodgson paid no heed. At the same time, however, he professed to criticise what he called “the chief mistakes made by Mrs. Besant” in “the expiring number (March, 1891) of the monthly magazine, Time...” But his paper (Proceedings, S.P.R., IX, pp. 129-159) evinces not the slightest indication that he found anything wrong in her statement that the S.P.R. "has taken the responsibility of the report..."
In that best-known work published by the S.P.R., Phantasms of the Living, by Gurney, Myers and Podmore (issued six months after the Committee Report), at page xlvii of the Introduction, there is another of these statements calculated to picture the Society as directly involved in the execration of Mme Blavatsky: “Now with the rise of one religion our Society has already had practically to deal. Acting through Mr. Hodgson, ...a committee of the Society for Psychical Research has investigated the claim of the so-called ‘Theosophy’,” of which Madame Blavatsky was the prophetess... and has arrived at the conclusion that it is merely a rechauffe of ancient philosophies, decked in novel language, and supported by ingenious fraud.
In 1895, there was published Solovyoff’s A Modern Priestess of Isis, “abridged and translated on behalf of The Society for Psychical Research...” In the Translator’s Preface, Walter Leaf, Member of Council, refers to its author’s “excellent abridgement of the Report of the Committee on Theosophical phenomena...” (Ibid., p. vi). This seal of “excellence” would seem to extend even to Solovyoff’s counting “the London Society for Psychical Research” along with himself and a “Madame de Morsier” as among Mme Blavatsky’s “accusers” (Ibid., p. 204)—an accounting in which neither Leaf nor Prof. Sidgwick (then Vice President, who wrote a Prefatory Note to the book), saw anything wrong.
This volume was reviewed by Podmore in the Proceedings of 1895 (vol. XI, p. 158). Far from offering any dissent to Solovyoff’s making the Society responsible for the Report with its accusations against H.P.B., the reviewer-historian, as it were, strengthens the link against by saying, “Madame Blavatsky unbosomed herself completely... There is much more about the imbecility of her dupes, and of the world in general... of Olcott’s blundering but well-intentioned assistance in ‘pheonema,’ and his acquittal by the S.P.R. of anything worse than stupidity—a verdict which Madame seems to have regarded as a personal insult." So--it not only convicted Mme Blavatsky, “the S.P.R.” acquitted her own Society’s President, Olcott.
With his review of the Solovyoff book, Podmore passed upon another attack then receiving enormous publicity in the world press. Published by the Westminister Gazette, this was Edmund Garrett’s Isis Very Much Unveiled, Being the Story of the Great Mahatma Hoax. Garrett's first page remarked on “the exposure of Madame Blavatsky’s box of tricks by the Society for Psychical Research...” Mr. Podmore found nothing to criticise in this.
In the first paragraph on the first page of his “Translator’s Preface” to the English-language edition of V.S. Solovyoff’s A Modern Priestess of Isis at the first mention of the S.P.R., of which he was a Member of Council and an officer, Walter Leaf writes, “The Council of the Society for Psychical Research, having had their attention called to the work, think that it is of such interest and importance, in relation to their inquiry carried out by them into ‘Theosophical Pheneomena’ in 1884-5, as to justify the publication of a translation.” So here, we have it on “good authority” that the “inquiry... into ‘Theosophical Phenomena; in 1884-5” had really been “carried out by”—the Council, S.P.R.! Thus, still another work—only of translation, if you like—put forth “formally” over the name of HENRY SIDGWICK, then Vice President of the Society, and with the “approval” of the S.P.R. Council, to inform or entertain the public, instructs its wide audience (and an enduring one, it might be noted, since a reprint edition of this book appeared in America within recent years—though without any corrective disclaimer, on this issue, that we can find) that Madame Blavatsky was investigated “by” the S.P.R. Council, an inquiry culminating in “the damning act of accusation drawn up by the Committee...” (p. xviii).
Perhaps the best-known work in Parapsychology is F.W.H. Myers’ Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death. Prepared for the press by Alice Johnson (a Secretary and Editor of the S.P.R.) and by Richard Hodgson himself, this posthumous work makes explain that the S.P.R. itself has been in the exposing business: “I propose to indicate in Appendices (923A and B) some of the work which the Society for Psychical Research has done in exposing and guarding against fraud and credulity...” (Ibid., vol. Ii, p. 207). “923A. For accounts of the impostures of Madame Blavatsky and other members of the Theosophical Society, see:-
In short, beginning with Hodgson himself, and in the Society’s official organ, The Journal (which the Council had previously “agreed... should to some extent be regarded as the organ of the Literary Committee,” five of whose six members were also members of the Committee investigating Mme Blavatsky, Ibid., i, pp. 260-1), even prior to the issuance of the final Committee Report, we find members of the Committee itself (Hodgson, Prof. Sidgwick as then editor of The Journal and through whose net all passed, Frank Podmore, F.W.H. Myers) either asserting the Society’s responsibility for the investigation and condemnation of Mme Blavatsky, or passing over, as if in silent approval, remarks published to that effect, even in volumes under criticism or bearing the imprint of the Society itself. And to this number we must add, of course, Mr. Leaf and Miss. Johnson, officials also.
How is one to explain this curious behavior—first, silent acquiescence when confronted by incipient myth that Prof. Sidgwick had quickly and vigorously put down months before, then, one and finally others of the Committee openly and publicly initiating and rudely promoting the same untruth, the very same myth? One is reminded of their Dec. 1885 Report casting the Committee mantle of authority around the Hodgson “Account”, incorporating it therein despite the confession the members had not found it convincing but had arrived at their point of conviction by another route, independently thereof. This can mean but one thing; realizing full well that their prospective audience would never join with them against Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical claims merely by reason of the ipsi dixit (“We have seen incriminating Blavatsky-Coulomb letters and take them to be genuine”), Dr. Hodgson’s superficially more convincing “Account” was seized upon, sanctified by authority of the Committee and displayed as “window-dressing” to give a facade of substance to their insubstantial, subjective conclusion! And when the reaction within and without the Society was tested and found to be favourable, when it soon became certain that the public overwhelmingly supported “the exposure”—“by a show of hands”—and fame followed in its wake, then the prestige of the very Society itself was falsely invoked as a mantle of authority to encompass the Investigating Committee and its standing. Who would object? Who did object? No one, (When indeed, in 1988 “amends” for this callous deception on the public-?! We ourselves must redress the atrocity—and we have all necessary means, except money to do so!) in fact, until S.P.R. officer Theodore Besterman—45 years later! And was he not a member of the Theosophical Society, too?
Walter A. Carrithers, Jr.